‘What Is Cancer?’: Answering The Most Googled Health Question Of 2017

With more information at our fingertips today than our brains can possibly process, it’s no surprise that many of us consult “Dr Google” about our ailments. And according to experts from Google, the health question people in the UK asked most in 2017 was: What is cancer?

Cancer rates continue to climb. Today 1 in 2 of us in the UK will be diagnosed at some point in our lives. So it makes sense that people want to know more about a topic that will undoubtedly touch all of us in one way or another. And although the internet can be a useful source of information, if people have symptoms they’re worried about then they should visit their GP for advice. But with the internet being so easily accessible, it’s no surprise that people are also seeking answers online.

So what were people presented with when they tapped those three words into their keyboards? A staggering 26,000,000 results. That’s an overwhelming amount of information.

Thankfully, those asking the question don’t have to browse far to find decent answers. Cancer Research UK sits among the top results, with a website dedicated to bringing readers the most accurate and up to date evidence-based information on the subject, from trials and treatments to pages sorting fact from fiction.

When it comes to health, gathering information from reliable, easy to understand sources such as this is critical. Choices regarding health and medicine can have profound impacts on a person’s life and wellbeing. So these decisions should be based on the best available evidence. Unfortunately, there are far too many websites that don’t offer this. 

Search the internet for long enough and soon you’ll be enveloped in conspiracy theories and quack ideas about the supposed causes of and cures for cancer. These can look very convincing at first glance, too. For example, some websites claim that cancer is a disease caused by eating an overly ‘acidic’ diet, and therefore eating what’s claimed to be healthier so-called ‘alkaline’ foods can cure people.

This unfounded idea, alongside many others, has been thoroughly debunked.

So, what really is cancer?

The word ‘cancer’ may be singular, but it reflects much more than just one disease. More accurately, it’s a term spanning hundreds of diseases. They all share a fundamental characteristic though: rogue cells growing out of control, overcrowding healthy tissues. Another defining feature is that cancers are caused by faulty DNA, allowing cells’ control systems to go haywire and permit this unregulated division.

While different types of cancer may share similarities, research is showing that each person’s individual cancer is unique and presents its own set of challenges. That’s why it’s extremely unlikely that there will be one single cure against all cancers. This means researchers have their work cut out to thwart these diseases. But that isn’t reason to give up hope. Far from it.

Thanks to research, many cancers can already be cured. Testicular cancer for example is very sensitive to chemotherapy drugs, and most cases can be cured.

Today, survival for testicular cancer is as high as 98%, and that’s just one example among many others.

More research will give us a greater chance of developing new ways to treat and cure more people’s cancer. And also a greater understanding of cancer in all its forms. So while we may have a textbook definition of cancer, there is much still to be learned about this complex disease. That’s why Cancer Research UK exists, and why we won’t stop until we reach the day that all cancers can be cured.

If anyone has questions about cancer they can call our dedicated nurses helpline, free phone 0808 800 4040, or email sciencesurgery@cancer.org.uk